Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, Demand Generation and More – What’s the Difference?

Michael Brenner on Jul 18, 2017 in Content Marketing

Let’s just admit it. Modern marketing has evolved so quickly over the past few years that we haven’t done the best job creating the constructive terminology to define what we’re doing.

Our innovation first, figure-out-how-to-explain-what-we’re-doing-for-the-benefit-of-others second approach has caught up with the digital marketing world – or should I say demand generation? Content marketing? Inbound?

It’s time to unravel this linguistic chaos and get out the Venn diagrams. There is a unique term for all the different approaches used in marketing because each is distinct in some way. Most overlap, which is where a lot of the confusion lies, and each has its own special sauce, or ‘reason to be.’ Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Here are the explanations to help you understand the defining characteristics and strengths of each term. And, the next time someone asks you:

  • What’s the difference between content marketing and inbound?
  • Internet and digital?
  • Why don’t marketers sit around coming up with good old ad campaigns anymore, life would be much simpler?

You have a lucid response ready to go.

Digital Marketing

Of all the types of marketing, digital is the broad umbrella term that encompasses them all. Any marketing or advertising delivered via a digital channel is digital marketing. It is all internet marketing, as well as SMS, the permission-based text messaging popularized by the evolution of fintech, and any digital TV and radio messaging.

Digital marketing has become such a powerful tool today because it allows marketers to meet consumers via their preferred channels. And, on a deeper layer, digital also dishes up the data, ready to be analyzed with all digital tools marketers have at their fingertips today. It is this data that helps marketers made better-informed decisions about what those preferred channels are, what messaging is effective, and what will improve the customer experience.

Deep into the digital era, marketers across the board, from small businesses to global brands, have already shifted from traditional to digital. 72 percent believe their branded online content is more effective than an old-fashioned magazine ad. 69 percent believe it’s better than direct mailings.

Internet Marketing

The terms internet marketing and digital marketing are often used interchangeably. For good reason – they are almost the same thing. Internet marketing is everything that digital is, minus anything that is not web-based, such as SMS and digital TV advertising. Both internet and digital marketing refer to all these tools and channels used today:

  • Inbound marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Mobile marketing
  • Banner ads
  • SEO
  • Pay per click advertising

image source

Internet marketing is a business’s search engine optimized landing pages, webinars, Instagram account, email campaigns and more. It (and digital) includes demand generation, inbound andcontent marketing.

While these three are primarily web-based, there’s a lot to these modern marketing strategies that can take place offline. Sometimes, they don’t always fall within the internet and digital marketing umbrella.

Demand Generation

Demand generation is simple. It is the act of generating demand for a product or service. But because it’s so simple, and encompasses everything from press releases to podcasts, utilized holistically over a long period of time, it’s also complex. It includes numerous techniques and strategies that need to be properly integrated in order to effectively translate the brand message to the consumer.

Demand gen is the marketing that generates buzz and awareness. While the focus is on lead generation, it also includes marketing to engage existing customers.

What is distinct about demand generation is that it involves a long-term strategy and an integrated approach. Yes, cold calls and direct mailings, as well as your email newsletters and webinars are all a part of the demand generation show.

On their own, however, they are just pieces – a few lines spoken, an introduction. Demand gen is the whole performance. The stage, the props, the actors, the music.

Which brings us to inbound marketing and content marketing – those actors putting the demand gen show together, attracting attention, and delighting your audience.

Inbound Marketing

The creators of inbound marketing software, Hubspot, are credited with coining the term. They define inbound as:

“Sharing is caring and inbound is about creating and sharing content with the world. By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more.”

The focus with inbound is on using content marketing to attract the best prospects and then to provide them exactly what they want as they move down the sales funnel. It involves a continual process of honing in on those buyer personas, segmenting when necessary, and delivering a personalized experience that makes leads and existing customers feel loved and wanted. It’s the type of marketing that you can’t do well without the organization, data analysis, and efficiency of a marketing software solution.

Inbound does include content marketing. In fact, Hubspot conducted a thorough survey, asking marketing professionals what they believed the relationship is between inbound and content marketing. The majority say that content is a subset of inbound. Looking at the relationship this way does make it easier to differentiate the two. Inbound includes all the different forms of content marketers can use to attract prospects and engage leads:

  • Blogs
  • E-newsletters
  • White papers
  • Social media posts
  • Video content
  • Podcasts

But it also refers to inbound strategies that don’t actually involve creating content – the biggest one being technical SEO. This includes fixing broken links, implementing meta tags, and other techniques.

Another helpful way to look at inbound marketing is to call it the flip side of outbound marketing. Oubound marketing is what we usually think of as traditional advertising – cold calling, fliers, telemarketing, radio/TV/print ads, direct mail – which are focused on projecting to your audience. The opposite, then, is finding ways to attract leads directly to your brand – i.e., inbounding them.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is a part of all the other marketing terms described above. It was around long before digital even existed (think Poor Richard’s Almanac). Content is created with the purpose of generating demand (demand gen), attracting prospects (inbound marketing), and ultimately driving sales. It focuses on offering value to the consumer and is a big part of the movement towards more meaningful brands.

It is frequently delivered through digital channels or online (digital and internet marketing) but content can be delivered in other ways, such as a speaking event or demonstration. It can be anything from industry interviews and white papers to what most people think of when someone says content marketing – brand blogs.

Clarity Gives You the Ability to Leverage It All

Even though these marketing strategies overlap quite a bit, it’s important to understand the scope of each type of marketing. By seeing each for what it can individually contribute towards your overall campaign, you cultivate the advantages it offers.

You need content’s establishment of trust and brand authority. Inbound’s excellence in giving your audience exactly what they want and always refining the buyer experience. Demand generation’s long-term mindset that brings content, inbound, and even outbound together. And a digital and internet marketing ethos to broaden the scope even more, focusing on innovative digital tools and the use of data to constantly improve.

And, isn’t that the point of coming up with all these offshoots and evolutions of the same core? We’re always looking for a better way to reach the consumer. This is because we know there always is one ready to be reached.

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 2 comments
  • Andrea Torti

    Thanks for sharing – some clarity is sorely needed, indeed!

    However, all of these approaches have a point in common: all of them are the product of different strategies applied synergically.

  • Site Above Solutions

    Indeed insightful article Michael! I admit that I personally interchange digital and internet marketing without realizing the difference between the two. I really did learn that from this article of yours alone! Anyway, all of those terms that you have mentioned above are widely used at present time as internet and digital marketing, content marketing, inbound and outbound marketing, and demand generation are simply part of the digital corporate world we are living in now. Thanks for sharing this article!